Nebraska Authors

James E. Lawrence

AKA: Jim

Born 1889 Beatrice, NE (USA)

Died 1957-09-16
Lincoln, NE

A strikingly influential and nationally known Lincoln journalist. Lawrence first came to the Lincoln Star in 1906, as a reporter. He became City Editor in 1911. He would serve as the newspaper's editor and managing editor for some 40 years until his death in 1957. He was a close associate and 1936 and 1942 campaign manager for Senator George Norris. He was a vocal supporter of the move to a one-house legislature and collaborated with Senator Norris in the writing of Norris's autobiography Fighting Liberal. In his early years at the Star, Lawrence played a decisive role in keeping the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln, and in getting the state to pursue the building of the new (present) state capitol building on a pay-as-you-go basis in the 1920s. He later served on the Capitol Mural Commission and collaborated with Chet Ager in establishing the Lincoln public park system. He helped establish the Nebraska public power and irrigation systems. He was especially influential in setting up the Tri-County Project which regulates irrigation in the Upper Platte basin in Nebraska.

In 1940, Lawrence was appointed to head the Nebraska State Historical Society, a position he held for 15 years. In 1952 President Harry Truman appointed Lawrence to chair the Missouri Basin Commission, an 11 person commission including three U.S. Senators and three congressmen, which held public hearings and accumulated 6,000 pages of testimony before submitting its report to President Eisenhower in 1953.

Lawrence was a remarkable public servant, but not without faults. When Rudolph Umland, editor (and later Director) of the Nebraska Federal Writers Project, joined the Project in 1935, he found that Lawrence had established his ex-mistress, a former Lincoln Public Schools teacher, as Director. Both the Washington leadership of the Federal Project and locals found her leadership disfunctional, but they were not allowed to fire her. Lawrence reached out to his Washington connections to prevent that. Word came from Washington that she would "have her desk" as long as there was a Nebraska Writers' Project. The best the reformers could do was to move that desk to her private apartment, and the Project continued to pay her as an editor until it ended in the first years of WW II.

When Lawrence died, letters of condolence poured in, from former President Harry Truman, from U.S. Senators and from Congress, from journalists and newspaper columnists from the New York Times to the Hastings Tribune. These were collected by Lawrence's wife, Helen, and placed in a scrapbook which she donated to the library. Additional James E. Lawrence papers are held at the Nebraska State Historical Society.


Author Of

  • Journalism





Places Worked

Lincoln Star
Nebraska State Historical Society


Missouri: Land and Water. 1953.

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James E. Lawrence

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